Week in science: Hubble telescope celebrates 20 years | Spitzer ‘tastes’ a methane-free planetary puzzler | Adoptive parents bring biases to process


    The Hubble Space Telescope is celebrating its 20th anniversary. In the spirit of the occasion, the famous telescope has captured this phantasmagorical image deep within the Carina Nebula. Not too shabby for a telescope with two decades under its belt. NASA and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team describe it best: “This craggy fantasy mountaintop enshrouded by wispy clouds looks like a bizarre landscape from Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ or a Dr. Seuss book, depending on your imagination. The NASA Hubble Space Telescope image, which is even more dramatic than fiction, captures the chaotic activity atop a three-light-year-tall pillar of gas and dust that is being eaten away by the brilliant light from nearby bright stars. The pillar is also being assaulted from within, as infant stars buried inside it fire off jets of gas that can be seen streaming from towering peaks.” [NASA and Discovery News]

Image: Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 observed the pillar of gas and dust within the Carina Nebula, 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation Carina. (NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team)


    NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered an olfactory puzzle on a small, distant planet. The planet, which is about the size of Neptune, lacks methane, a common ingredient of many planets in our solar system. Astronomers are using the advancing planet-“tasting” technology to seek out Earth-like worlds for methane and other chemical signs of life. “Ultimately, we want to find biosignatures on a small, rocky world. Oxygen, especially with even a little methane, would tell us that we humans might not be alone,” said Kevin Stevenson, a planetary sciences graduate student at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, lead author of the study published this week in the journal Nature. [NASA/JPL]

Image: An unusual, methane-free world is partially eclipsed by its star in this artist’s concept. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
  • When it comes to picking a potential child for adoption, research out of Caltech shows prospective parents bring strong race-, gender- and age-based preferences to the selection process. A white baby is seven times more likely to attract the interest of potential adoptive parents than is a black baby. And girls, unexpectedly, are a more popular adoptive choice. The preferences come with a price tag: Parents are willing to pay an average of $16,000 more for a girl over a boy — and $38,000 more for a white baby than for a black baby. [SoCal Minds and Caltech]
  • Researchers at City of Hope say blueberries could be a powerful ally in the fight against a certain type of aggressive, treatment-resistant breast cancer. In their research, blueberry extracts were shown to control tumor growth, decrease metastasis and induce cancer-cell death — at more than twice the rate of untreated cells. A clinical trial on human patients is planned. [Star-News and City of Hope]

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